Shawna finally forced me to make good on my promise Saturday (after four months of un-mown lawns, un-weeded flower beds, and un-trimmed hedges). I tried a number of times to get out of it. I hinted around at taking her shopping, told her I didn't feel well, and even wandered aimlessly about the garage praying for the angry, dark clouds to break open and save me from sweat-stained t-shirt, grimy jeans, and green fingernails.
All to no avail.
When I could think of no other good reason not to mow, I stomped back to the garage and yanked and grunted the mower from the corner where it was buried under a Fisher-Price kitchen and three bags of "yard-sale stuff" (that's code for "don't open those bags; you might get hurt"). I pulled it out onto the grass, pushed the little switch to "choke" and started yanking the cord.
It burped and heaved, but it wouldn't catch. I, being the patient guy that I am, took it well. OK, that's a lie; I yanked harder, kicked at the mower a few times, and muttered loudly that the "piece of junk BETTER start...".
"Did you check the gas?" Shawna asked.
I stopped and stared at her for a moment. She saw it in my eyes, I think, because she had the grace to turn and go inside before I bent down and unscrewed the gas cap. Sure enough: bone dry. I started to push the mower back toward the garage.
"What are you doing?" she called from the open kitchen window.
"Putting the mower away."
"We don't have a gas can, Shawna."
The front door opened, and she stalked out as only she can. It was that walk, the one that says, "Uh uh, buddy. You PROMISED that you'd mow that lawn, now you get down to the hardware store and BUY yourself a gas can!"
"Um...can you give me my keys and wallet so that I can run to the hardware store and buy a gas can," I mumbled. She obliged.
While in the store, I thought to ask the clerk if they had one of those handheld edgers. They did, but I opted not to buy it (highway robbery at $26.99). As I stood in line, an old guy, completely bald with an old green cap and a faded blue jacket on, who'd been standing just inside the store, staring blankly at a "Gorilla Glue" display for about ten minutes, suddenly turned to me.
"Use your weed-eater," he said to me. He pronounced it yahr.
"Um...excuse me?" I responded, looking around to see if, perhaps, he was talking to someone else.
"To edge the lawn," he said. "Use a weed-eater. Save y'self some money. It'll work fayn."
"I don't have a weed eater," I responded, "but that's a great idea. I'll keep it in mind." I turned quickly, paid for my gas can, and beat a hasty retreat to my car.
I unlocked the car, tossed in the gas can, and climbed behind the wheel. I reached out to pull the door shut, just as a hand grabbed it, holding it open. It was my friend, the elderly edging guru.
"Where do y'all live?" he asked.
"We'all live here in town," I said.
"Where? What's your address?"
I wasn't quite sure what to do, but I finally told him where I live.
"The reason ah'm askin' is 'cuz ahv got a 'lectric edger that's like new that I gotta sell. If ya want it, ah'll give it to ya fer ten bucks."
I thought for a moment. "Where do you live? I'll follow you, and buy it from you, OK?" I said. He agreed, hopped into his beat up Saturn, and tore off down the road.
He didn't tell me that he lived out in the middle of nowhere. Fifteen minutes (and ten or twelve miles later) we finally pulled up to a run down mobile home, off a beaten up dirt road. I parked, and jumped out. He hurried over to me, and started jawing about his dog (it's three months old, and not yet trained, so it jumps-"careful; he'll get your pants dirty!"); and about his shed ("do ya like it? Built it m'self!"); and his yard ("hard to edge, what with the asphalt drive"). All while pawing about in the shed, presumably looking for the almost-new electric edger.
I stood and listened, said uh-huh and wow when appropriate, and wished he'd hurry. I had a yard to mow, and it was cold, and I just wanted to be done and showered. After a few minutes he stopped. He stood up slowly, put his hands on his hips, and said, "Son of a..." (he looked sideways at me) "...pistol!".
"You can't find it?" I asked.
"I'll bet that Dan has it! I'm gonna go call'm. Wait here."
"Um...you know what? It's not that big of a deal. If you want I can-"
He was gone, off to the mobile home. He went inside, and came out with a cordless phone, grumbling the whole way. He misdialed, hung up, cursed, and dialed again. He waited for a few beats, grunted, and started berating an answering machine somewhere for "takin' my edger. I want it back; I got someone wantin' t'buy it!"
"I don't got it. That Dan has it, I think," he told me.
"Not a problem," I said. "I'll give you my number and you can call if you find it, OK?"
I did; he promised to call if he found it.
He then began to tell me about his sister who, in the 1950's had a house built near me. "Her house is on Austin Way...no; wait...where's that?...that's in Fresno. Where do you live again?" I told him. "Oh, that's right. She lived on Manor!"
I began inching my way toward my car. He kept pace.
"Do you know that it was written in the deed to her house that she couldn't sell it to no colored folk?" he asked. "That's right! She didn't even know it 'til later, but it was right there! She couldn't hardly believe it."
It was sprinkling now. I tried to open my car door, but he had me backed up tight against it so that I couldn't pull it open.
"Wow," I said.
"Yeah. I told her that she could probably get $150,000 for that place..." he droned on. I was desperate. He had me pushed up against the side of my car, apparently unaware of the rain coming down, and his dog was busy muddying my pant legs and lapping at my hands.
"...that neighbor of hers; I told her she should just take that guy over there, and show him around the house, and that neighbor would come runnin' to buy the place!"
"Um...sir?" I interrupted. "I really have to get going. It's starting to rain, and I HAVE to mow my lawn today."
He stopped, midsentence, and stared at me. "Oh. OK. Well I'll call you when Dan calls me back, OK?"
"Sure! See ya!" I jumped into the car, and beat it.
He's called me four times since. I wonder-the Bible says that "a man that hath friends must shew himself friendly." I've always taken that to mean that if you want someone to be your friend, you have to be theirs first. But I don't think that's the case.
I think that God is calling us to be friends. Not just when it's self-serving, but to ALL in NEED of a friend. I'm guilty--the guiltiest, in fact, of being friendly to those whom I desire to befriend me, all the while ignoring those who DEPSERATELY need a friend.
Like the old man in the hardware store. He might not have ever had an edger. But one thing I'm convinced of: he needed a friend.
So I'll call him; maybe I'll go back out and chat with him. Not for my sake; for his. Because I think that's a part of what we're here for, to be, as Christians, the face of God when someone needs it. He said that He's a "friend who sticketh closer than a brother." If we're supposed to be God's representatives here on Earth, more than anything, shouldn't we embody that?